NSW taskforce releases safety guidelines for food delivery riders, placing responsibility with platform providers

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Source: Unsplash/ Kai Pilger.

WorkSafe NSW has released a set of draft guidelines for improving the safety of gig economy delivery drivers and riders, highlighting unreasonable delivery times, poorly designed apps, and a lack of familiarity with the roads as key hazards.

The guidelines have been drawn up by the Gig Economy Joint Taskforce, which was established in November last year, following the deaths of five delivery riders within two months.

A draft report outlines several hazards for workers in this sector, and largely puts the onus on the gig economy giants, such as Deliveroo and UberEats, to address them.

Poorly designed apps and unrealistic estimated delivery times create “unreasonable time pressures and physical exhaustion”, both of which lead to unsafe riding, it notes.

The guidelines place responsibility with the tech companies to ensure their apps are designed to be used safely, basing delivery times on traffic conditions and average rider speeds.

They also suggest a feature to address rider fatigue, locking riders out of their apps after 12 hours of working, and not allowing them back in for 10 hours.

SafeWork NSW also highlighted riders’ lack of familiarity with NSW road rules and poorly maintained bikes and motorcycles — or e-bikes that are not approved for road use in the state — as common hazards that can lead to accidents.

Again, it put the responsibility on the app providers to ensure its riders demonstrate an understanding of local road and bike rules, and to provide annual refresher training.

At the time of writing, UberEats has not responded to a request for comment.

A Deliveroo spokesperson said the business welcomes the draft guidelines, and will consider “any initiative that improves the safety and wellbeing of riders”.

In response to the allegation of unreasonable expectations in relation to delivery times, the spokesperson said Deliveroo’s estimates are determined by an algorithm, and based on various factors including the weather and traffic conditions.

“We do not set target delivery times for riders, and we do not, and never will, encourage riders to be unsafe on the roads,” they said.

“There is no doubt that the issues of road safety are complex and require the input of experts, industry and Government to build solutions,” the spokesperson added.

“We are committed to working with stakeholders to achieve this.”

A light touch?

In a statement, the Transport Workers’ Union said it welcomes the state government’s attention to rider safety. However, national secretary Michael Kaine said “light-touch guidelines” are unlikely to pose a threat to global behemoths “who have expertly honed their ability to evade hundred-year-old workplace laws”.

In a statement, Kaine singled out Uber in particular, which he said had its UberEats business model “savaged” by the Federal Court late last year, following an unfair dismissal case brought by a driver who was allegedly sacked for a delivery that arrived 10 minutes late.

The case concluded with a confidential out-of-court settlement.

“When Federal Court judges savaged Uber’s business model, the company adjusted its contract with workers to attempt to distance itself further from legal responsibilities,” Kaine said.

“Uber will keep playing this game until direct government intervention puts a stop to it.

“We need a tribunal standing guard to examine evolving work arrangements and ensure safe minimum standards for all workers.”

NSW Minister for Better Regulation Kevin Anderson said there are steps to be taken by the platform operators, the drivers and the restaurants to create a safer working environment.

In a statement, he highlighted the gig economy as a “rapidly growing sector”.

That growth has caused uncertainty as to what each party should be doing to ensure compliance with the state’s work health and safety legislation, he said.

The guidelines have been drawn up in partnership with the industry to help everyone involved “understand their obligations” under the state’s work health and safety legislation, he added.

“Old-fashioned exploitation”

The Gig Economy Joint Taskforce was established against a backdrop of increased reliance on gig economy work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jobs data for August 2020 showed a net increase of 111,000 jobs in Australia. But, almost all of those workers were self-employed, and two-thirds were working part-time.

That pointed to a surge in gig economy workers. And, as demand for food delivery increased during lockdowns, it made sense.

However, it’s arguably only contributing to a broader problem around insecure work.

Today, riders for Chinese language food delivery platform Hungry Panda are protesting over a pay cut, and over the alleged sacking of a rider who raised concerns about it.

“Workers are struggling to make ends meet and dying on the job,” Kaine said in a statement.

He called on both federal and state governments to “get their heads out of the sand” and bring laws up to date to cater to a modern workforce.

“This is not some shiny new economy, its old-fashioned exploitation via an app,” he said.

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